Hogan's Alley

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Further Evidence Of Bush's Incompetence

Further testimony to the failures of this administration to conduct the war in Iraq competently comes from Rich Lowry in the National Review Online.

Bush has been at the mercy of events in Iraq. Perhaps that’s forgivable. Even Abraham Lincoln famously confessed, “Events have controlled me.” What’s less understandable is being controlled by other people’s advice. Bush has been presiding over the Iraq War for three years, and he really has no better ideas than might bubble up from his national-security council or from an Iraq Study Group including the likes of Sandra Day O’Connor and Vernon Jordan about how to prosecute the war?
Bush's detached management style, avoiding micromanaging at all costs, has let the war be run by Rumsfeld, Chenney and precious few others. He suffers from another comparison with Lincoln in Lowry's piece:

Bush simply has failed to run his war. Historian Eliot Cohen describes how, in contrast, the best American wartime president conducted himself: “Lincoln had not merely to select his generals, but to educate, train and guide them. To this end he believed that he had to master the details of war, from the technology to the organization and movement of armies, if only to enable himself to make informed judgments about general officers.”

Bush has taken the opposite approach and — for all his swagger and protectiveness of executive prerogatives — is becoming a disturbing study in lassitude in the executive branch.

Iraq Is Broken Beyond Civil War - It Is A Leaderless Jungle

The recent preposterous and pompous announcement by NBC News, via its apparent key world affairs maven, Matt Lauer, that they now view the situation in Iraq as a civil war is so wrong it hurts.

Civil wars involve two or three distinct, identifiable, and unified groups struggling for power. In Iraq the number of distinct factions is beyond counting. As Tom Friedman says in today's Times (Timesselect firewall warning):

There are so many people killing so many other people for so many different reasons — religion, crime, politics — that all the proposals for how to settle this problem seem laughable. It was possible to settle Bosnia’s civil war by turning the country into a loose federation, because the main parties to that conflict were reasonably coherent, with leaders who could cut a deal and deliver their faction.

But Iraq is in so many little pieces now, divided among warlords, foreign terrorists, gangs, militias, parties, the police and the army, that nobody seems able to deliver anybody. Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war — it’s gone from breaking apart to breaking down. This is not the Arab Yugoslavia anymore. It’s Hobbes’s jungle.

The situation is now much closer to anarchy than to civil war.

Why? Because for the last one and a half to two years the only debate in America has been over how quickly to pull out. Let us remember that our political debates are carried out over the satellite airways and are closely observed throughout the world and especially in places like Iraq that have a special interest in our future behavior. The rational result of this observation is the current maneuvering for positions of power in a post-American Iraq. No one there, or here for that matter, expects the US to remain strongly in country for the ten or more years with double our current troop levels that Friedman suggests is the only viable alternative. Everyone is angling for their best bargaining position in that expected future.

...Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there — broken, it seems, by 1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism, three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule, and a crippling decade of U.N. sanctions. It was held together only by Saddam’s iron fist. Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course. But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops. That vacuum was filled by murderous Sunni Baathists and Al Qaeda types, who butchered Iraqi Shiites until they finally wouldn’t take it any longer and started butchering back, which brought us to where we are today.

There is currently no potential presidential candidate who argues for increased troop strength and long term commitment except John McCain. Are we then to wait two years to see if McCain can survive the Republican primary process and be elected? Does anyone believe the American people are willing to reconsider their dislike of the current state of affairs in Iraq and recommit to a more costly battle, the longest in our history? How many kids, therefore, do we consign to the cemetery in the name of some unknown time when the Iraqi government and people will wake up and see the need for them to take control of their streets?

I no longer see any possibility of a healthy outcome. Our national interest will be best served by a process which gets us out to nearby states with the understanding that we will strike from there any emerging terrorist training or operational sites. It is not in our control whether Shia or Sunni prevail. It now seems clear that the winner will be a strongman and that repression of the other side and the al Qaeda types will ensue. Such is the spawn of incompetence.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Wall St. Journal Now On Joe Kennedy's Case Of Chavez Love

The Journal's Opinion Page today carries a piece noting Joseph Kennedy's partnership with Hugo Chavez. As noted here the other day, Kennedy seems perfectly willing to cooperate with Chavez' anti-American propaganda ploy.

The Journal does emphasize the Kennedy-centric aspect of this exercise, noting that the way one applies for the reduced price heating oil is by calling 800-Joe-4-Oil. Prepping for another run for office?

In his defense, Kennedy provides moral equivalence between the state of Venezuela's shrinking democracy and the Florida presidential elections. I, for one, would have loved to ask him if he would include Chicago 1960 on his list of the failures of American democracy.

A New View Of How The White House Arrived At The Current Mess In Iraq

In a largely unnoticed report by US News and World Report, the magazine provides extensive detail of the failures in side the Administration since 2003 to plan for and monitor the post war recovery in Iraq and the battle with the insurgency.

Key quote:

An extensive review of the National Security Council's role in the Iraq war and its aftermath-based on interviews with a dozen former NSC staff members, senior officials from the State Department and the Pentagon, and outside security experts-reveals new details of the White House's failure to effectively manage the interagency effort on Iraq. The review by U.S. News is based on a detailed recounting of the NSC's interagency deliberations, including the daily and weekly secure video teleconferences conducted from the White House's Situation Room. Rice and Hadley declined to be interviewed for this account. Rumsfeld failed to respond to an interview request.

Several important new books, including Fiasco, by the Washington Post's Pentagon correspondent, Thomas Ricks, and State of Denial, by Bob Woodward have chronicled the many missteps in the Bush administration's prewar planning and post-invasion conduct. But historians will be discussing for years how a venture vested with such singular importance by its advocates could have been conceived and executed with such myopia and ineptitude. To date, the administration has failed to meet a single one of the reconstruction goals it set for itself back in 2003-goals for rebuilding infrastructure, defraying reconstruction costs by increasing oil production, and instituting a constitutional democracy with functioning courts and the rule of law.

The article is titled, "Who Lost Iraq?: Success has many fathers. The mess in Baghdad has a lot more."

Friday, November 24, 2006

Chaos About To Be Unleashed In Iraq?

The Sunni/Shiite mutual slaughter seems to be on the very edge of slipping full bore into open warfare. If the US and Iraqi officials cannot get a handle on this quickly we could be witnessing the end of any practical hope for a peaceful society of laws in that sad nation. The Administration must be willing to do whatever it takes, be that more or dramatically fewer US troops. The problem will be in discovering the proper combination of American and Iraqi wise men who can discern the correct answer.

As in all such matters, the madmen will be storming the streets with their weapons and the mass of ordinary citizens, hoping only for a safe environment for their families, will suffer the consequences of this indiscriminate violence.


Joe Kennedy Fronting For Hugo Chavez

Oil heat, being most prevalent in the Northeast, the TV commercial blocks of New England and the Mid-Atlantic are now loaded with a several commercials featuring former Congressman Joe Kennedy, son of Bobby Kennedy. Here is one example on YouTube.

The commercials all feature homeowners, often elderly, who have had trouble paying for enough oil to heat their homes. By calling "Joe-4-Oil", qualifying homeowners can receive a 40% reduction in the cost of oil, provided, as Joe says in each commercial, "by the good people of Venezuela and Citgo." This is no doubt the only time a positive expression about a large oil company has passed the lips of any of the current generation of Kennedys.

Presumably Kennedy has decided to ignore the insanities of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's populist dictator wannabe, in order to provide some aid to some Americans in need. Of course, as he happily provides propaganda that will enable Chavez to further bash America, it seems to arguably be a pact with the devil (no pun related to Chavez' recent UN performance intended).

The facts, which may never reach the people of Venezuela, are that all the "poor" American so aided by their government's generosity own their own homes. It is customary in the Northeastern United States for property owners to purchase and provide for heating their buildings. Those who rent in this area do not buy oil, or any other heating fuel. Most of the houses in question have a sale value in excess of $100,000, some several multiples of that figure. Venezuelans should note that such net worth is hardly compares with the deep, nearly third world poverty of many in Venezuela.

In Nueva Taca, part of Caracas, 20 families are waiting for the National Housing Institution to pay compensation for their destroyed houses. They live in the most terrible conditions. “Here we only have tap water once every two weeks, at times I have to use rainwater to make a baby bottle of food for the little one” said Ericka Sanchez, who lives in the zone. The people in that zone wash their clothes in a nearby stream, a pool of stagnant, stinking water. The children and adults develop marks on their skins and scabies, a transmissible skin disease brought on by mites burying themselves into skin and reproducing. This can cause intense itching and can infect whole families.

It is also a fact that America already provides government assistance to those unable to afford heating fuel through the Home Energy Assistance Program funded by the Federal government and administered by the various state and local public welfare agencies. Qualifying people receive assistance for whichever fuel vendor they choose, not discount fuel provided by only one oil company, which may still be making a profit on this arrangement.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Touch of Evil - Opening Sequence

In case the reference to "Touch of Evil" in the prior post is unfamiliar to you, here it is, courtesy of YouTube. For as long as it is not blocked.

Tribute To Robert Altman

Here is the opening title sequence from Altman's "The Player". It is a single uncut tracking shot that lasts over eight minutes and sets up the story to come in such a compelling way that one ignores the credits themselves. So much for Hollywood egos.

Altman unique genius was to place the following self-referential line in the mouth of Fred Ward's character about a third of the way into the shot: “The pictures they make these days are all MTV. Cut,cut, cut, cut. The opening shot of Welles’ Touch of Evil was six and a half minutes long… well three or for anyway. He set up the whole picture with that one tracking shot. My father was, ah, key grip on that shoot.”


Robert Altman Dead At 81

Today we have lost one of the most consistently interesting film directors ever produced in America. His successes, M*A*S*H, The Player, Gosford Park, Nashville, etc. were films that demanded multiple viewings to soak up all the detail buried in the overlapping dialog that was his trademark.

His last film, A Prairie Home Companion, which was a critical and box office disappointment was one of my favorites from this year's crop. It is, as Altman said, a film about death, told in the context of the threatened closing of a long running radio program. Seeing it reminded me of the best of Altman's work. It is like watching a unique amalgam of ballet and poetry, both somehow magically choreographed together.

My favorite of Altman's films was The Player, his examination of the Hollywood scene that is deeply cynical and, at the same time incredibly loving. Not an easy pairing to craft. Yet he did it, and provided a noir mystery story at the same time.

We shall not see his like again.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Whoa, Let's Not Bug Out Quite So Fast

Yesterday I noted the apparent consensus that the election of a Democratic Congress meant a quick pullout of Iraq. Today, Gen. Abazaid appeared to appropriately apply the break of reality to the downhill rush out of Mesopotamia. He even suggested that an increase in U.S. troop strength might be necessary over the short term.

The Times itself, in a summary of the views of military experts, principally retired generals Anthony Zinni and John Baptiste, who garnered consiserable street cred with the anti-war folks by demanding Rumsfeld's resignation.

Here is Gen. Zinni on the speculation, widely floated by Sen. Levin, that a time certain departure will put pressure on the Iraqi government:

“The logic of this is you put pressure on Maliki and force him to stand up to this,” General Zinni said in an interview, referring to Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister. “Well, you can’t put pressure on a wounded guy. There is a premise that the Iraqis are not doing enough now, that there is a capability that they have not employed or used. I am not so sure they are capable of stopping sectarian violence.”

Instead of taking troops out, General Zinni said, it would make more sense to consider deploying additional American forces over the next six months to “regain momentum” as part of a broader effort to stabilize Iraq that would create more jobs, foster political reconciliation and develop more effective Iraqi security forces.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Cannonization Of Bobby Kennedy

With the opening this Friday of Emilio Estevez' film about the night of the assasination of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles in 1968, a media blitz has begun that both promotes the movie and implants in the public mind an image of Kennedy as a holy man of American liberalism.

Surely he did many good things in his life. As Attorney General he orchestrated a federal attack on Southern segregation that was aggressive for the times. He also seemed to have a genuinely warm and human touch when dealing with ordinary Americans. And he was a Kennedy and the glamorous heir-apparent to his dead brother's legacy in Camelot.

Since he has been dead for nearly forty years, many, if not most movie goers, will be having their first in depth look at Bobby. The wise among them will know that politicians are human and often have feet of clay. Even a cursory look at the Wikipedia bio of Kennedy will reveal that Kennedy was counsel for Joe McCarthy's witch hunt committee in the Senate and that he brought to bear the full passion and intelligence of his personality to that task.

He is also the Attorney General who ordered the surveillance and phone tapping of Martin Luther King. Not a noble moment in his biography.

In 1967 - 68 I was a admirer of Sen. Eugene McCarthy. This McCarthy had the temerity and courage to challenge Pres. Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam policy. It was McCarthy who came close, in March 1968, to beating Johnson in the New Hampshire Primary. This near loss caused Johnson to take himself out of the 1968 Presidential race. From my perspective, it was only then that Kennedy found the fortitude to come forward as a candidate for the White House. Kennedy glamor quickly outflanked McCarthy's boring earnestness. On the day of his death he was no doubt headed for the Democratic nomination and probable victory over Nixon in November. I, along with nearly everyone else, shed many tears for his loss and the barbaric place America was becoming.

For the rational part of me, however, Kennedy was not a knight in shinning armor. He was rather an opportunist fulfilling his father's dream and demand that a Kennedy boy be in the White House as well as bearer of his brother's torch. He was, more than any thing else, an eloquent politician for whom winning was the prime directive. Everything, from his youthful career to his carpetbagging a likely winnable Senate seat in New York, was part of the calculus. Causes mattered only as a way and means to the ultimate goal.

CBS in a story about the movie on last week's Sunday Morning show, dutifully proclaiming the coming sainthood, quoted historian Douglas Brinkley saying that, "The hard-boiled political operative of 1961, say, to 1964, changes," presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said. "It becomes from '65 to '68 the champion of the underdog. The myth of Robert Kennedy and the emotional aspect of his persona [is] the man who dared to care about the poor and the forgotten people."

To put it plainly, there is no evidence for this transformation. No one knows the man's heart. But it seems more reasonable to assume that the mature man (Kennedy was 40 years old in 1965) had incorporated the necessities of politics, which had been his whole life, within the temper of the times, the 60's of rock and revolution and the growing influence of the baby boomers as voters.

He was human, yet he may have made a great president. Unfortunately, we will never know. Perhaps Kennedy will become the mythical hero we seem to need if we are to continue to live as a nation in our age of pervasive cynicism. Surely no living politician will again be granted such immunity.

The Drumbeat For Pulling Out Of Iraq

It seems inescapable to anyone watching the coverage of the major networks and 24 hour news channels that a group decision was made on November 8. This decision was not made in any conspiratorial way. Rather the individual editors and reporters seem to have come to a common decision that the war in Iraq is lost and should be over as quickly as possible.

There will be no waiting for the Baker/Hamilton Study Group. The steady drumbeat has begun. The American people need to be inculcated with the hopelessness of the situation on the ground in Iraq and the brilliant promise of a Democratic Congress forcing an intransigent and stupid Presidents hand before more American soldiers die.

Look at their reports. Nothing, absolutely nothing positive is happening in Iraq. I defy anyone to site one positive report in the last week. No one is reporting anything of the machinations and efforts of the Iraqi government. No one reports of the fears of any Iraqi citizens at the prospect of a rapid American withdrawal. There is no downside to our departure. Surely only goodness and mercy will flow from our departure. Just as surely, the American press will bug out of Baghdad hard on the heels of our troops. There will be no further reports of car bombings of shoppers in downtown Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods troubling our evening newscasts. The tale of an abandoned Iraq will be told only by a handful of intrepid reporters. No doubt the invaluable John Burns of the NY Times will see it through, until it becomes far too dangerous to continue.

Have you ever wondered how World War II would have been prosecuted with a post-Vietnam press ethos? James Q. Wilson speculates on that likelihood and lays out the process that has, apparently permanently, evolved the press into an institutional opponent to any and all military actions of the United States.

This change in the media is not a transitory one that will give way to a return to the support of our military when it fights. Journalism, like so much scholarship, now dwells in a postmodern age in which truth is hard to find and statements merely serve someone’s interests.

The mainstream media’s adversarial stance, both here and abroad, means that whenever a foreign enemy challenges us, he will know that his objective will be to win the battle not on some faraway bit of land but among the people who determine what we read and watch. We won the Second World War in Europe and Japan, but we lost in Vietnam and are in danger of losing in Iraq and Lebanon in the newspapers, magazines, and television programs we enjoy.


Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Answer Your Phone...

The arrival of November 7th brought with it not only the end of our long election season. It also blessedly brought to a close the assault of robocalls on behalf of candidates and political parties. In the ensuing days I had begun to lose the habit of compulsively checking the caller ID before doing something so wildly foolish as blindly punching the answer button and saying "hello".

It turns out that I dropped my precautions too quickly. By the end of last week the supper time air was again full of the sound of ringing phones. Now, however, the callers were not political supplicants but the old fashioned sort of beggars and pleaders, fevered high tech call rooms chasing down your humble blogger for a small portion of his income on behalf of various charitable causes.

To be sure, each and every cause is noble and deserving. But no one, including me, is going to donate to every single cause that happens to obtain or stumble upon the phone number of a living, breathing person. When did it become my duty in life to craft polite, yet effective and short, explanations to desperate, underpaid and bonus-driven phone solicitors who only want to offer me the seasonal benefit of a tax deduction?

Like every rational person I have long ago added myself to the official do-not-call lists maintained by state and federal governments. Blessedly, that has insulated me from most of the endless parade of commercial solicitations. The lobbyists for the now desperate telemarketing industry and the non-profit charities were able to carve out an exemption for themselves.

While I recognize the difference between commercial and non-commercial interests, there is absolutely no practical difference in the disruptive impact on the peaceful enjoyment of my home caused by these callers. If our legislators are interested in writing laws in the interest of their constituents (yes, I can still occasionally remain hopelessly naive), then let them extend the ban on calls to these charities.

In the meantime, for myself I have adopted a policy of zero response to phone solicitations. If you call me, the answer is no. If you want to have a shot at receiving a donation, send me your materials in the mail. I still won't respond to every one received, but I will say yes to some.

"Celebutante Vaginalist"

Kay S. Hymowitz has written a brilliant exploration of the Paris Hilton continuing event in City Journal. Thanks to Ann Althouse for the link.

The above title for this post is one of the many titles of twisted affection crafted by the gossip industry for Ms. Hilton quoted by Hymowitz in the piece. If you have ever wondered what in the hell the Paris Hilton phenomenon is about, read this piece. It posits a reasonable explanation for "it", the totally public non-personhood of Ms. Hilton and fully describes every justifiably mean spirited word or thought you have ever hurled at your TV screen when her unavoidable image appears.

Here is a choice quote:

Now despite her fame and good fortune, for most sentient adults Hilton personifies the decadence of our cultural moment. With her nightclub brawls, her endless sexcapades, her vapid interviews, her rodent-like dog, and her lack of ostensible talent, she reeks of every vice ever ascribed to our poor country. She has become a synonym for American materialism, bad manners, greed, “like” and “whatever” Valley Girl inarticulateness, parochialism, arrogance, promiscuity, antifeminism, exposed roots and navels, entitlement, cell-phone addiction, anorexia and bulimia, predilection for gas-guzzling private transportation, pornified womanhood, exhibitionism, narcissism—you name it.

Paris deserves almost all of this. You don’t need to share Osama bin Laden’s view of America to see that Paris mirrors us at our contemporary worst. But something still doesn’t compute: Why, if Paris says so much about us, do Americans—not just college professors and the commentariat but celebrity watchers and tabloid junkies—hate her so much? And why, if she is so offensive, is she so ubiquitous?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lewis Black

Here's a good dose of Lewis Black from YouTube. We deserve this after the last several months of political overkill.

Bush's Press Conference - Clinical Denial In Action

In today's press conference, Pres. Bush said the following at the end of his prepared remarks:

When I first came to Washington nearly six years ago, I was hopeful I could help change the tone here in the capital. As governor of Texas, I had successfully worked with both Democrats and Republicans to find common-sense solutions to the problems facing our state. While we made some progress on changing the tone, I'm disappointed we haven't made more. I'm confident that we can work together. I'm confident we can overcome the temptation to divide this country between red and blue. The issues before us are bigger than that and we are bigger than that. By putting this election and partisanship behind us, we can launch a new era of cooperation and make these next two years productive ones for the American people.

Anyone who buys this has lost any remaining grip on reality. The plain facts are that Bush and Rove set about very early in their first term, to govern with only their Congressional majority and to push those issues which appealed to their base. Any reasonable observer could see that a conscious choice was made to lead from the political strength they perceived in their polling and in the outcome of the 2004 election.

Now he stands before the nation and declares that he is shocked, shocked to learn that governing in America has not been done in a collegial, compromise-driven manner. Capt. Renault himself would be offended.

The only hopeful sign is that he now may be forced to follow his own Texas prescription.

Rumsfeld Is Gone!

Having toughed it out through the election, the White House has pulled the trigger at the Defense Department. Rumsfeld will be replaced by Robert Gates, former CIA chief under Bush I.

What will this mean? It depends on Gates. Bush's history is to appoint people and to give then their heads. We will have to pay close attention to what Gates has to say, and more importantly, what he does.

One Added Thought:

Before the press gets all bent out of shape about Bush telling reporters last week that Rumsfeld would stay, imagine if he had made this same announcement one week ago. He would have been accused of a cynical November surprise of the highest order and, in fact, might have held down the number of seats won by the Democrats. He would have been widely condemned in the MSP and the Blogosphere.


The Results: No Big Whoop, Standard Mid-term Loss

Well, I clearly underestimated the gains for the Democrats in the House, but I my guess was based on my sense that there would be no great national wave of change demanded by the American people. In my home state of Connecticut the three close contested seats held by Republicans split. Chris Shays won, Nancy Johnson lost and Rob Simmons has apparently lost, but in a near tie with Joe Courtney (currently leading by 180 votes).

Although some races are still officially undecided, it seems clear that, in the House, Democrats will pick up about 33 seats. In the Senate, Montana and Virginia will no doubt go to the Democrats, giving them a gain of 6 seats and the simultaneous creation of a very powerful independent in Joe Lieberman. Kos as Dr. Frankenstein?

How does this stand up to the history of midterm elections? Colleen Shogan of George Mason University has published a paper laying out the facts. The key chart from her work is on page 8 of this PDF. It shows that from 1862 - 2002 the average losses in the second year midterm election are 30.2 in the House and 1.5 in the Senate. In the sixth year midterm the average loss is 40.3 in the House and 6.6 in the Senate.

By this standard the Democrats could be said to do less well than expected in the House and spot on average in the Senate.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Links For Democracy Post Below

Here are the links inadvertently left out of the comments about the Don Henley video posted below. Here is Andrew Sullivan's post, and here are the lyrics for Cohen's song, Democracy.

A Modern Hymn For Today

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for posting this YouTube video of Don Henley performing Leonard Cohen's Democracy. Think of it as a kind of hymn containing what I believe to be all our hopes for the promise of America, regardless of our political positions. If you don't believe that is true of THEM, those on the other side of the political chasm, then you haven't been listening outside your own small circle of comfort for fear of having to think.

Does Political Discussion Polarize Our Views?

In today's Times, John Tierney cites one or two studies that seem to indicate that when people are exposed to political discussion that is slanted either to the right or the left, the group tends to be, on average, more heavily tilted in the direction of the slant.

Although I believe the Times has made its TimesSelect columnists available for free this week, here are a few key quotes just in case its not available:

But what really happens when people discuss politics? Consider an experiment last year, when groups of Coloradans convened separately in Boulder and Colorado Springs to discuss global warming, affirmative action and civil unions for same-sex couples. Before the discussions, the people in Boulder were on average more liberal than the ones in Colorado Springs, but there were also moderates in both places whose opinions overlapped.

After the group discussions, the people in Boulder moved to the left, and those in Colorado Springs moved to the right. The researchers — David Schkade, Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie — concluded that “the major effect of deliberation was to make group members more extreme than they were before they started to talk.”


But when people informally discuss politics, they often don’t hear a range of views. As in Boulder and Colorado Springs, they may be surrounded by like-minded people in their neighborhoods, churches and offices. During local elections, they’re much more likely now than in the past to hear one-sided rhetoric because gerrymandering has produced so many one-sided districts, making it impossible for moderate candidates to survive.

Thanks to cable television, talk radio and the Internet, it’s easier than ever for people to have their opinions validated around the clock. As the media audiences segregate themselves ideologically, they become more extreme in their views — and more convinced than ever that they represent the sensible middle.


In fact, most journalists do try to be objective, but as a group they, too, can become polarized by spending most of their time talking to fellow journalists and experts with similar views. One of the cleverest demonstrations of this effect was a study published last year in Harvard’s Quarterly Journal of Economics. The researchers, Tim Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo, devised a scale for measuring the slant of news reports by keeping track of which think tanks — liberal or conservative — were quoted most often.

The researchers found that The Washington Times and Brit Hume’s evening newscast on Fox fell on the conservative side of the scale, while all the other news media outlets they studied fell on the liberal side. The surprising result — to liberals, at least — was that Fox was closer to the ideological center than the Big Three evening newscasts as well as all the major newspapers and newsweeklies.

Of course, these ideological divides are small compared with the ones in the blogosphere, which is one giant version of the Colorado experiment. You can always find a group online to affirm your brilliant opinions. It’s immensely satisfying, but it can also make Election Day a miserable experience. Tonight, you can’t help noticing how many ignorant people out there disagree with you.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hopes For Tomorrow's Elections

President Bush and the Republicans surely have earned a smack upside the head for their mishandling of post-Saddam Iraq, Katrina, deficit growth and a host of other sins, not the least of which is the ass-kissing of the religious right which has become their hallmark.

Before going further, a confession is required. I am a life-long Democrat, raised in a home where FDR was a god. As a young man I was comfortable in the company of the left. After all, the evil of racism and the stupidity of Vietnam needed to be fought.

Over the intervening years my comfort with the left has turned into pronounced discomfort. Liberalism/Progressivism has become defined by a knee-jerk anti-Americanism which facilely finds America a fault for all the problems of the world. There is also a heady dose of elitism in the current left. If only the masses were as well educated and intelligent as we are, they would understand why their behaviors and voting patterns are so against their self-interest, which is all we really care about. With any luck we'll run Walmart out of business and deprive them of cheap shopping opportunities. They'll feel better about it over time. We know what's best.

This is not the time and place to debate this perspective, but hopefully it does serve as a background for my predictions and hopes for tomorrow's election.

On a national basis, my reading of the polls, tea leaves and the entrails of several ravens leads me to believe that the Democrats will take control of the House, winning just the 15 or 16 seats they need to elect Nancy Pelosi Speaker. As for the Senate, I think only 5 seats will change hands, leaving the Senate in a effective tie and Dick Chenney a very busy man.

So far today I have received six political phone calls...and the evening is still young. As thrilling as it might have been to "chat" with Bill Clinton, Rudi Guiliani, Paul Newman or Pat Boone, I have opted to let the answering machine bear the brunt of the pain.

After such a bombardment by calls, mailings and commercials the American people, in their wisdom, are very likely longing for the virtual incapacitation of the institution. The only way forward will hopefully then be for both parties to actually talk to one another and to back off the vile atmosphere of our politics in 2006. One lives in hope.

As for my vote, I live in Connecticut and in Chris Shays' district. The volume of political assault has been brutal. Enormous piles of political mail have been hauled to the recycling center and countless phone calls erased from the answering machine.

I have particularly hated the campaign against Joe Lieberman. As concocted by the kids over at Daily Kos, who have appointed themselves the arbiters of Democratic orthodoxy and the Great Kos himself as their Torquemada, the earth shook when Lieberman was ousted in the primary by Ned Lamont. Why, because he could not provide the correct answer to the question, "Are you now, or have you ever been, in favor of the invasion of Iraq."

I am a moderate. In my view it would be a tragedy if both parties are seized by the radicals in each camp. So my vote will be for Lieberman and for Shays.

Both have been voices for reasonableness in their respective parties. Their opponents have failed to display a clear vision of their own. Both have trumpeted only a one note anti-Bush theme. Lamont is an unimpressive ex-businessman without a demonstrable working knowledge of the intricacies of government or foreign affairs. Diane Farrell, Shays' opponent, is the First Selectman (Mayor) of Westport, a town with one of the highest per capita income levels on the planet. Her ability to represent those not so well endowed, income-wise, is highly doubtful, as is her ability to jump from zoning and local taxation issues to those of the national scene. Her competence in these issues has certainly not been demonstrated during this campaign or the last, in which she also tried to unseat Shays.

Sadly, an outcome as outlined above will be trumpeted by Bush as approval of his "policy" in Iraq, which to my eyes is non-existent. For the next two years we will be stuck muddling along with no clear strategy and no clear understanding of the tribal nature of Iraq.

In a recent column, David Brooks (behind his TimesSelect firewall) quoted various British officials in the 1920's on the subject of the sectarian nature of Iraqis. The conclusion of the Iraqi writer, Elie Kedourie, in his 1970 study "The Kingdom of Iraq: A Retrospect" was:

The Iraq of his youth, Kedourie concluded, “was a make-believe kingdom built on false pretenses.” He quoted a British report from 1936, which noted that the Iraqi government would never be a machine based on law that treated citizens impartially, but would always be based on tribal favoritism and personal relationships. Iraq, Kedourie said, faced two alternatives: “Either the country would be plunged into chaos or its population should become universally the clients and dependents of an omnipotent but capricious and unstable government.” There is, he wrote, no third option.
Would that we had only had such insights before us in 2003, or that the administration had consulted the experts on the region. The difficulty, if not impossibility, of cobbling together a republic among these waring tribes would have generated either considerable humility or superior planning and manpower. Precious few of us, unfortunately, regardless of current spinning, argued the difficulty of the long term project coupled with the incompetence of the leadership. If you will recall, we mostly argued about the lack of world support, the difficulty or ease of the fight with Saddam and the impact on the Arab street and its governments.

Chaos is not an option, for now it is our responsibility. As Colin Powell noted, we broke it, we own it. Unleashing massive death by a precipitous departure would be immoral. The struggle must be to find our way forward to a viable solution. Sadly, given Bush's demonstrated stubbornness and Rumsfeld's obsessive/compulsive single mindedness it will be up to the next President to find a fix, beginning in January 2009. How many American kids and Iraqi innocents will sacrifice their lives in the interim is the guilty burden of those in charge and of all Americans in our time.

The Second Coming

As is obvious, my interest in blogging has severely flagged over the last several months. Why? It is difficult to know for certain, but two main reasons seem very likely.

First, American politics has become a shrieking melange of techno-operatives seeking advantage by any means. This is especially true in the blogosphere, where attempts to think and reason our way in a very complex world are overwhelmed by the gleeful posting of gotcha events and efforts to rally the faithful of either side. And the noise works. In fact, with very few exceptions, the ratings winners on TV and the internet are the loudest shouters. Not a very accomodating environment for those like me who seek signs of truth without joining and cheering for one team or the other.

The second truth in my life has been a long summer of illness. Nothing life threatening, just enough to refreshen my awareness of my mortality. Having drunk a sufficient portion of depression, I hope it is now possible to refocus on the world and to use this blog as a therapeutic tool and reemerge gradually into the world of daily writing. We shall see.

For this reemergence, the most appropriate work of literature I can think of is Yeats' magnificent and frightening poem The Second Coming. For me it speaks as loudly about our era as it did in the post WWI environment in which it was conceived.

Here, for your elucidation is the poem:


by William Butler Yeats, 1920

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

There seems no doubt that the "rough beast" is not the engine of our ever-hoped-for salvation. Quite the opposite.